March 25, 2015 / 5:03 AM / 2 years ago

CORRECTED-Canada energy regulator engineers investigated by industry group

(Corrects paragraph five to show audit had been scheduled, not prompted by allegations)

By Mike De Souza

OTTAWA, March 25 (Reuters) - Senior engineers at Canada’s energy regulator are under investigation by their professional association over their probe of alleged safety code violations at TransCanada Corp, Canada’s second largest pipeline operator.

The Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA) confirmed to Reuters it is investigating some of its members who work at the National Energy Board (NEB).

The engineers had been investigating allegations of natural gas pipeline safety-code violations at TransCanada, brought to light by a whistleblower.

The same whistleblower, a former TransCanada employee who left the company in September 2014, told Reuters he complained to the engineering association because he thought the regulator was not moving quickly enough to deal with the allegations.

The pipeline operator’s safety practices previously came under scrutiny in 2012 over concerns raised by another former employee. These concerns prompted the NEB to modify a scheduled audit so that it could investigate the complaints. The audit, released in February 2014, confirmed some of those complaints and called on the company to address weaknesses in such areas as risk assessment, inspection and management review.

The probes also coincide with a parliamentary debate on new pipeline safety legislation, in which the official opposition and environmental groups have criticized the regulator, saying it is too close to the industry it oversees.

APEGA, the self-regulatory professional group for Alberta engineers, said it normally refrained from commenting on ongoing investigations to protect the privacy of its members.

“We felt that in a situation where the public interest is deemed to be paramount to privacy - they’re both very important and we have to weigh those and balance them - that we’re making that exception,” said Philip Mulder, an APEGA spokesman.

Mulder said the investigation could take months. If the investigators confirmed the complaints, they could recommend setting up a disciplinary committee to determine how to resolve the issues.

The association did not disclose the names of the engineers being investigated.

The regulator confirmed that it was also conducting its own internal review about its response to the whistleblower’s allegations, but would not provide details.

In a letter previously reviewed by Reuters, which the regulator has sent to the whistleblower, the NEB confirmed it learned of the allegations in March 2014 and was taking them “very seriously,” but that it had not flagged any immediate safety concerns.

TransCanada has said that it did not see any of the allegations representing either an immediate or long term threat to the public or its assets. It declined to comment on the engineering association’s investigation.

“What I can say is that we share the NEB’s focus on protecting the safety of the public, our workers and the environment,” said spokesman Davis Sheremata. (Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson and Tomasz Janowski)

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